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Four Arabs named among TIME's 'Most Influential People 2020'

Anonymous whistleblower Caesar is among this year's 100 "Most Influential People" [Screengrab/TIME]

Date of publication: 23 September, 2020

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Oscar-nominated Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab is listed among TIME magazine's 'Most Influential People of 2020'.
Four leading Arab cultural and political figures have been named among TIME magazine's Most Influential People of 2020.

Two Syrians find themselves on this year's TIME 100 list, one an Oscar-nominated film director and the other an anonymous whistleblower whose photos documenting the deaths by torture of thousands of Syrian detainees inspired renewed US sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The much-discussed list, which has been published annually since 2004, consists of individuals nominated by "Influential People" alumni and the magazine's writing staff and chosen by TIME editors.

The TIME 100 is split into five categories - "Pioneers", which this year includes rapper Megan Thee Stallion and Syrian director Waad Al-Kateab; "Artists", including American comedian Ali Wong and Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho; "Leaders", with nods to Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi; "Titans", including Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and Alibaba chief Daniel Zhang; and "Icons", with mentions of the Black Lives Matter founders and American footballer Megan Rapinoe.

Alongside the Syrians, Kateab and Caesar, are Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah and Emirati diplomat Yousef Al-Otaiba.

Named an "Icon" in this year's TIME 100, Attalah is editor-in-chief of Egyptian independent news site Mada Masr.

Authorities have blocked the site but it continues to publish through mirror sites, investigating topics avoided or censored by other Egyptian outlets such as the conflict in the Sinai. Mada Masr's office was raided last year, while Attalah herself was arrested earlier this year while interviewing a prominent author.

Read more: Egypt's relentless war on journalism persists amid pandemic

While the Egyptian journalist and her Syrian counterparts have earned their place on the TIME 100 list through acts of dissidence, Al-Otaiba was named one of the world's most influential figures for his role as an influential state official.

The Emirati ambassador to Washington was a key figure in hashing out last month's landmark agreement to normalise ties between Israel and the UAE, TIME correspondent Vivienne Walt wrote on Tuesday. Al-Otaiba is listed as a "Leader" on the TIME 100.

Caesar, a former Syrian regime forensic photographer, is also listed as a "Leader" this year. The whistleblower risked his life to smuggle out more than 50,000 photographs of killed detainees, providing evidence of industrial-scale torture and murder by the Assad regime.
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The photographs, coupled with his testimony before Congress, led to the passing last year of the Caesar Act. The sanctions bill came in to force earlier this year, targeting both the Assad regime and any individual or entity that does business with it.

"Pioneer" Waad Al-Kateab's film "For Sama" follows the story of her day-to-day life over the course of five years, from the 2011 uprising against Assad to life under the horrific years-long siege of Aleppo.

The documentary takes the form of a letter addressed to her daughter, who is now attending primary school in the United Kingdom.

"For Sama" has won multiple accolades, including the Best Documentary prize at this year's BAFTAs and the same award at last year's Cannes Film Festival. The film was also nominated for an Oscar.

"In a year when film awards were, once again, criticized for their lack of diversity, it was incredible to see Waad, a Muslim refugee woman, walk the red carpet at the Oscars alongside her young daughter, wearing a gown embroidered with a poem in Arabic that read, 'We dared to dream and we will not regret dignity'," actor Riz Ahmed wrote in TIME.

"I am in awe of her refusal to give up that dream."

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